Sturgeon "takes responsibility" for consultant shortages in Dumfries and Galloway

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon interviewed by ITV Border Political Editor Peter MacMahon Credit: ITV Border

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she takes responsibility for recruitment problems in the NHS, including in Dumfries and Galloway where there is a shortage of more than 30 senior doctors.

Ms Sturgeon has also apologised for patients who have had operations cancelled or had to wait longer than they should during the "exceptional pressures" faced by the health service over the Christmas and New Year cold snap.

Figures reported to the last meeting of Dumfries and Galloway NHS board in December showed there were vacancies in a wide range of consultant posts including anaesthetics, cardiology, elderly care, breast surgery, and psychiatry.

In a new year interview for ITV Border I put this to the First Minister who has claimed that the NHS in Scotland is performing better than it is south of the Border.

I asked Ms Sturgeon if 30 consultant level vacancies, 20% of the total, was good enough for the people of Dumfries and Galloway?

She told me: "We've got more doctors, more nurses, more in every category of health service staff working in our health service today than was previously the case.

"There are recruitment challenges in Scotland as there are in other parts of the UK and further afield in terms of some particular specialities and we are working hard with the NHS and particular boards to meet those recruitment challenges. But there are more staff, our NHS has more budget."

I read part of the list which the health board produced to the First Minister.

She told me: "Health boards will recruit on an ongoing basis..."

I asked whether she took any responsibility?

She replied: "I take responsibility. I don't know what makes you think I don't take responsibility. I take responsibility as First Minister for the performance of our health service as I do for our public services generally, but I'm not trying to deny there are recruitment challenges that are not unique in any way shape or form to Scotland."

"These are real challenges. I don't dismiss or underplay them but I also point to the fact there are more people working in our health service. Thousands of more people than when we took office and more money going into our health service than ever before."

The full list of consultant vacancies listed by NHS Dumfries and Galloway is: Acute Medicine, Anaesthetics, Cardiology, Care of the Elderly, Diabetes, ENT, Gastroenterology, Breast surgery, Haematology, Infectious diseases, Microbiology, Neurology, Ophthalmology, Orthopaedics, Pathology, Radiology, Rheumatology, Urology, Obs/gynae, Psychiatry.

Responding to the First Minister south of Scotland, Labour MSP Colin Smyth said: “The recruitment crisis NHS Dumfries and Galloway faces is a direct result of a decade of utter failure in NHS workforce management by the SNP.

"The First Minister needs to stop burying her head in the sand and face up to this crisis.

"That means tearing up the recent Scottish Government’s timid draft budget and instead use the tax powers of the Scottish Parliament to properly invest in health and social care including funding enough training places and putting an end to the £20m of cuts NHS Dumfries face in the coming year”.

Meanwhile Scottish Conservative MSP for Dumfriesshire Oliver Mundell said: “It’s clear to see in hospitals across the South of Scotland just how much strain our health service is under.“The SNP were warned time and again about the workforce crisis in our NHS, but they failed to plan ahead.“Their lack of action is now effecting the quality of care and it’s Scottish patients who are going to suffer.”

Ms Sturgeon paid tribute to the "really impressive" NHS staff across Scotland who had faced "exceptional pressures" over the festive winter spell. She said: "All of us owe them a debt of gratitude"

The First Minister added: "Yes, some patients will have waited longer than we would have wanted them to wait...and I would apologise to any patient in that circumstance, not just in winter but at any time that happens.

"But the majority of people even at the height of winter pressure who attend A&E will be seen within four hours and in Scotland there is no blanket cancellation of planned operations until the end of January such as there has been announced in England."

The First Minister argued that the NHS north of the Border was "in transition" and that recruitment problems were not unique to Scotland.

Her SNP government was putting in new investment to deal with, among other issues, an ageing population and was embarking on reforms like combing health and social care, she claimed.